A historical look at the uniform numbers for the new Patriots: #35, Jonas Gray and Dax Swanson
We are in the dead zone of the NFL year folks, that time between the finish of draft and the start of training camp. With the exception of the one day a week that the media has access to organized team activities, there’s not much to go over that hasn’t already been over-analyzed – so with that in mind here is the tenth in a series of historical perspectives at who has previously worn the uniform number of the 2014 additions to the roster of the New England Patriots. Unless noted otherwise all the players listed took part in at least one regular or playoff game in the season listed for the Patriots.
Jonas Gray and Dax Swanson are the latest members of the Pats to don the number 35; here is a look at those who have preceded them to wear that jersey over the years during the franchise history of the Patriots. Hopefully one of them can break a three-decade long trend, in which nobody has come close to the production and performance of the player that wore number 35 in the days when the team was known as the Boston Patriots.
35 – Running Back Jonas Gray
– In his first three seasons at Notre Dame, Gray played in 21 games but had only one start, and 75 carries for 309 yards. His senior year he averaged 6.9 yards per carry for 791 yards and 12 touchdowns, despite missing the final three games with a knee injury. The Dolphins signed him as an undrafted free agent in May of 2012, but he was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform/Non-Football Injury list due to the lingering effects of surgery to repair the torn ACL. The Dolphins waived him on August 31, and Baltimore signed him to their practice squad two days later. The Patriots signed Gray to a future/reserve contract on January 10 after the Ravens elected to not do the same at the end of their 2013 season.
At 230 pounds, Gray is a powerful back built to run between the tackles. He could potentially fill a void on the roster as a big, muscular back, but may need some more time on the practice squad to work on route running, blocking, and avoiding fumbles before landing a spot on the 53-man roster.
35 – Cornerback Dax Swanson
– In his freshman year at Toledo, Swanson played in ten games with seven passes defensed and one forced fumble. He then transferred to Sam Houston State, where he started for three years. In 41 games there, Swanson intercepted 14 passes, broke up 31 more, and made 129 tackles. With eight picks and nine passes defensed in his junior year, he was at one point projected to go as high as rounds 3-5 in the draft. Despite running a 4.43 forty at his pro day, his relatively small frame (186 pounds) and lack of experience against top-tier receivers presumably resulted in his not being drafted. The Colts signed him as an undrafted rookie immediately following the 2013 draft, but he he suffered an injury during training camp and was placed on Injured Reserve. Indy waived him with an injury settlement at the end of October, but he did not stay unemployed for very long. After the 49ers released Perrish Cox and Tarell Brown was injured, they signed Swanson to their practice squad. He remained with San Francisco for the remainder of the season, then was released in May after selecting two corners in the draft.
Early reports have been encouraging; Doug Kyed from NESN wrote the following, from OTAs on June 13:
Swanson has made big plays during all three OTAs open to the media this spring. He had a few pass breakups in Week 1, an interception in Week 2 and another pass breakup in Week 3. The Patriots will need a fifth cornerback while Brandon Browner serves a four-game suspension to start the season, and Swanson is in the running for that role.
Swanson’s rookie season didn’t go as planned after he suffered an injury during training camp with the Colts, then spent the 2013 season on the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad. He’s getting a second chance with the Patriots, and he’s not letting it go to waste.
Swanson continues to impress: he followed that practice up by intercepting two passes in practice on the 18th.
2014: S Jeremy Deering (released 5/22)
– Yet another Patriot prospect from Rutgers, Deering began his collegiate career first as a running back (4.4 yards per carry, 578 yards, 2 touchdowns), then wide receiver (21 receptions, 415 yards, 19.8 yards per catch, 1 touchdown), and finally moved to safety. His senior year he played in all 13 games with ten starts, compiling 39 tackles (22 unassisted) with one interception and one pass defensed. He was signed May 16, and released six days later when the Pats signed Dax Swanson.
2011: S Ross Ventrone
– One of the few players to have his name become a verb; to be Ventroned refers to the practice of being signed, released, signed to the practice squad, promoted, and released again multiple times in honor of the 29 transactions he was part of with the Patriots in 2011 and 2012. Ross ventrone followed the footsteps of his brother Ray – Bubba – to Villanova and to the patriots as an undersized but tenacious, overachieving special teams player. Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010, he was cut twice near the end of camp, and signed to the practice squad in October. Ventrone was signed to the roster seven times, to the practice squad six times, and released eight times in 2011, managing to log eight games on the NFL roster. The Patriots released Ventrone at the end of camp in 2012, and he signed a reserve/future contract at the end of the 2012 season with Pittsburgh. The Steelers cut him at the end of camp in 2013, and re-signed him after the end of the 2013 season to another reserve/future contract. Ventrone is still with Pittsburgh, and will once again be fighting for a roster spot based primarily on special teams play.
2007-08: CB Mike Richardson
– Not to be confused with the cornerback of the same name who started for the Bears in the 80s, this Mike Richardson was drafted by the Patriots in sixth round, 202nd overall in the 2007 draft. Richardson was a two year starter at Notre Dame, with career totals of 115 tackles (85 solos), four interceptions (48 yards), 10 pass breakups, five tackles for loss and three quarterback sacks. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve, placed on IR on the same day the Pats finally agreed to a contract with Asante Samuel at the end of August. Richardson was waived during final camp cuts in 2008, and immediately signed him to the practice squad. On October 20 Laurence Maroney went on IR, and Richardson was promoted to the 53-man roster. He played ten games for the Pats that season in a backup role, registering 15 tackles and one forced fumble. The Patriots released Richardson during August of 2009, ending his time in New England.
A month later the Chiefs signed Richardson, and he played in eleven games for Kansas City in 2009. He was on their roster but inactive for three games late in 2010, and then signed with Indianapolis. Richardson played the final regular season game and as well as the Colts’ playoff loss to the Jets, but that was it for his NFL career.
2000-06: FB Patrick Pass
– The Patriots selected Pass in the 7th round (239th overall) of the 2000 draft. He was a versatile athlete at Georgia, with 35 receptions, 26 kickoff returns, 15 punt returns, 3-5 passing, and 221 carries for 1,022 yards – while also playing baseball in the minor leagues for the Florida Marlins. He was initially cut out of camp and signed to the practice squad, but promoted two weeks later. The Patriots released him again at the end of camp in 2003, but re-signed him a month later. In 2006 Pass was placed on PUP with a foot injury, and not activated until November. In December he suffered a hamstring injury which caused so much pain he grabbed his leg and fumbled the ball, much to the chagrin of many fans who felt he should have ignored the pain and held on to the ball. He was placed on IR, and became a free agent at the end of the season. Pass signed with Houston, but was cut at the end of camp. He signed with the Giants in November, and played in one game in ’07. After being sidelined with a turf toe injury, Pass attempted to comeback and re-signed with the Patriots on June 4, 2009. The Pats apparently felt he wasn’t physically up to the challenge at the age of 32, and they released him five days later. He officially retired from the NFL in 2010.
With the Patriots he was a swiss army knife, exhibiting the versatility that Bill Belichick covets, and is one of a small group to earn three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. He filled in reasonably well at both fullback and running back, blocked well, returned some kicks (he was sure-handed with kickoff returns against the Raiders in the snow of the ‘tuck’ playoff game in 2001-02), blocked on kick and punt returns, performed well on kick coverage teams, and could catch as well. He finished his career with 526 yards rushing at 4.1 yards per carry, plus 66 receptions for 570 yards, with four touchdowns in 79 regular season games; he also averaged 20.7 yards on 36 kickoff returns. He still often appears in the New England area, eager to help out with fund raising drives for charity events.
1999: RB Jerry Ellison
– Tampa Bay signed Ellison as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1995. In his rookie season he was particularly successful against Detroit: he scored two touchdowns in the first meeting, including a 36 yard run around left end, and then a 75 yard score in the season finale. He spent four seasons with the Buccaneers as a special teamer, and backup at running back first to Errict Rhett and then Warrick Dunn.
Ellison played in all 64 games for the Bucs from 1995-98, and then signed with the Patriots as a free agent. In twelve games he again played mostly on special teams, with only two rushes for ten yards and four receptions for 50 yards. The following season he re-signed with Tampa Bay, but was hurt during training camp. He was released with an injury settlement, but he did not play again in the NFL. He finished his career with 368 yards rushing, five touchdowns, and 310 yards on 30 receptions; he also averaged 18.6 yards on 19 kickoff returns.
1996-97: RB Marrio Grier
– Grier was a footnote to one of the best trades in franchise history for the Patriots. The Detroit Lions wanted to move up in the 1996 draft, and the Patriots obliged, trading their third round pick (76th overall) to Detroit for their third (86th overall), a fourth round pick, and a sixth round pick. The Pats used those picks to select Tedy Bruschi, Chris Sullivan, and Grier, who was from Tennesee-Chattanooga after transferring from Clemson. The Lions took Georgia Tech safety Dave Stewart; if you know him, it’s because you listen to the 2 Live Stews sports talk radio show, and not for his NFL career (42 games, two starts, one interception, 22 tackles).
Grier played all 32 games in his two seasons with the Patriots. In the final game of the ’97 season, Grier scored the go-ahead touchdown as the Pats defeated Miami 14-12 to clinch the AFC East title. He was re-signed the following spring, but did not make the final roster in ’98. Grier finished his career with 180 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He spent time with the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe in 1999, where he scored a touchdown in the World Bowl, and blocked for Lawrence Phillips, who led the league in rushing. From 2000-03 Grier then played fullback and linebacker with Carolina and Colorado in the Arena Football League, before hanging up his cleats for good.
1993-94: FB Burnie Legette
– Legette played his college ball at Michigan, where he blocked for Jon Vaughn, Ricky Powers and Tyrone Wheatley from 1989-92. The Patriots signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent, and he played in seven games in ’93 and three in ’94, primarily on special teams, with no stats. During training camp in ’95 he pulled a hamstring, and was released during final cuts.
1989: RB George Wonsley
– Selected in in the fourth round (103rd overall) out of Mississippi State in the 1984 draft by Indianapolis, Wonsley played in 73 games over five seasons with the Colts. He was one of three brothers all playing running back in the NFL: Nathan was with Tampa Bay in 1986, and Otis was with Washington from 1981-85. Wonsley appeared in five games for the Patriots, from weeks 11-16 in 1989. He had two carries: one for a loss of two yards, and one for no gain. For his NFL career Wonsley rushed for 1,158 yards and nine touchdowns, and also had 60 receptions for 527 yards.
1983: RB George Peoples
– Primarily a blocking back at Auburn, where he rushed for 442 yards his senior year, Peoples was chosen by Dallas in the 8th round (216th overall) of the 1982 draft. He played one season for the Cowboys, with 22 yards rushing on seven attempts in eight games. The Pats signed him the following year, and he was on the roster for all 16 games, with one fumble recovered. He played the next two seasons in Tampa, appearing in eight games. His final NFL stat lines read four seasons, 32 games, eight carries for 24 yards, and two fumbles recovered.
1979-80: RB/KR Allan Clark
– Not to be confused with the singer, songwriter and guitar player from the Hollies, Allan Clark was a running back and return man from Northern Arizona. He was an AP All American Honorable Mention in 1978, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and held the school record for most yards rushing in a season (1,333 yards) and in a career (2,753 yards). At Northern Arizona Clark rushed for more than 200 yards during a game three times, and the Patriots selected him in the tenth round, 271st overall in the 1979 draft.
Clark excelled in coverage on special teams, and surprisingly made the roster in ’79. He also handled kickoff returns, averaging 22.1 yards on 37 returns. In 1980 he missed five games early in the season with a broken thumb, and due to that relinquished his return duties. Clark still played on the punt and kickoff coverage teams, and had three fumble recoveries – including one for a 15-yard touchdown in 1980 against Baltimore. Unfortunately between his reckless playing style and small size, more injuries would derail his career. After missing all of 1981, he played six games with the Bills and Packers in ’82 before calling it quits. Clark finished his NFL career with 33 games played, 140 yards rushing, three rushing touchdowns, 35 yards receiving, an average of 20.7 yards on 44 kick returns, and five fumble recovries – with one for a TD.
1976-77: RB Jess Phillips
– Phillips was a person who made the most of a second chance. He was convicted of forgery while at Michigan State, and spent four months in prison. The expansion Cincinnati Bengals selected him in the fourth round, 84th overall in the 1968 draft, and he played for them for five years. Originally the Bengals had Phillips playing safety, but switched him to running back. He then played for New Orleans for two years and one in Oakland before the Patriots signed him in 1976 at the age of 29. That team was deep at running back with Sam Cunningham, Andy Johnson and Don Calhoun, so Chuck Fairbanks used him as the kick returner. In his two seasons in New England he played in 27 games, with 191 yards rushing, two touchdowns, and an average of 24.5 yards on 20 kickoff returns. Phillips finished his NFL career with 3,568 yards rushing, 694 yards receiving, 15 touchdowns, an average of 23.3 yards on 45 kickoff returns, and 5,326 all-purpose yards; in 1970 he was a Sporting News All-Pro.
1972: RB Henry Matthews
– Matthews was a backup to Eric Allen at Michigan State in 1970-71, and went undrafted the following spring. The Patriots signed him for three games in December, during which he had no rushes or receptions, and three kickoff returns for an average of 24.7 yards. The following season he played in nine games for the Saints and Falcons, compiling four yards rushing, 19 yards receiving, and one fumble recovery for 55 yards.
1965-73: RB Jim Nance
– In 1963 and 1965, Jim Nance was the NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion at Syracuse and an All-American. On the gridiron, Nance was just as good. Despite splitting carries with Floyd Little, he rushed for 1,021 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior year, and scored in ten straight games. Most people assumed he would sign with the NFL, but Nance liked Mike Holovak a lot more than George Halas – and the fact that Holovak did not object to his wrestling. The Bears drafted him in the 4th round, and the Patriots took a flyer on him in the 19th round, 151st overall in the 1965 AFL draft. Nance surprised people by signing with the Pats, and eventually – far too late in my opinion – was enshrined to the Patriots Hall of Fame.
In his rookie season, Nance weighed 260, and Holovak told Nance he would make a fine guard after averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Whether he meant it or not, the motivation worked wonders. Nance lost 25 pounds, and in his second season he led the AFL with 1,458 yards rushing, 11 rushing touchdowns, and 1,561 yards from scrimmage. He was an AFL All-Pro, AFL Most Valuable Player, and AP and UPI AFL Player of the Year. In the ten year history of the AFL, Nance was the only player to eclipse the 1,400-yard plateau and his 104.1-yard rushing average per game that season still remains a franchise. That was the year of the first Super Bowl, and the Pats came within a whisker of playing the Chiefs – a team they had tied late in the year in Kansas City – for the AFL championship and a chance to compete against the NFL in that first-ever championship, thanks primarily to Nance’s performance.
In 1967 Nance again led the league in rushing, with 1,216 yards, and was an All-Pro for the second time. The team around him grew old however, and went into a rebuilding stage. Opponents were able to key completely on him, and injuries slowed him down. He ended up playing seven years for the Patriots, rushing for 5,323 yards; that record was broken a decade later by Sam Cunningham, but still remains the second most in franchise history. He also rushed for 45 touchdowns, which is still a club record. After the 1971 season Nance was traded to the Eagles, but did not play. After sitting out the 1972 season, he was signed by the Jets, but was at that point a shell of his former self, rushing for just 78 yards in seven games. He also played two seasons in the World Football League before retiring.
After suffering a heart attack and stroke in 1983, Nance passed away in 1992 at the age of 49; that unfortunately happened prior to his 2009 induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame. He is without a doubt one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise, and one that made me a huge fan of the team when I was a young kid.
“Jim Nance is really, when I look back on all the players that I remember both growing up and even as a coach, he’s kind of really the prototype fullback… I remember being a kid at the Naval Academy and going to his wrestling matches and seeing Jim come in there and, boy, he looked like a fullback in his wrestling outfit. He was, of course, an NCAA championship wrestler with just incredible quickness and balance and power for a big man. Of course, you saw that on the field and off the field. I think the recognition there is certainly well-deserved. He was a very, very hard guy to tackle and deal with. [He was], like I said, more of a prototype fullback. I know Jim Brown – and the greatness that Jim [Brown] has brought to this game is on a different level – but it’s almost like Jim [Brown] was a halfback with his speed and his elusiveness in the open field. Nance was a pretty special player here and in that era as well.”
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